Generally, my opinion is that all managers take their starters out too early. This doesn’t mean starters should pitch complete games and have season-long innings pitched totals around 300. Instead, it means that starters should generally give 6-7 innings and occasionally more. But all around baseball, from the first two games of the season, if anything it looks like managers are leaving their starters in too long.
Max Scherzer is cruising through five innings and then in the sixth, he loses command and starts throwing pitches middle-middle. And Scherzer had high pitch counts in Spring Training, so it’s not that his arm wasn’t used to this type of workload. The Mets knocked out two pretty good pitchers in Sandy Alcantara and Jesus Luzardo in the sixth. And as his fantasy owner, it wasn’t hard to notice that Lance Lynn throws five shutout innings and then gives us two runs and gets knocked out in the sixth.
During the Mets broadcasts, Ron Darling has talked about pitchers getting gassed. Last night, the crew talked about how with the pitch clock that they may start having pitchers run more, a practice that was once very popular in Spring Training but one that doesn’t have the same emphasis here in the 21st Century.
The question now is: Will starters sort of naturally adjust to the pace of the game and not fall apart due to lower body fatigue or will five innings be the new expectation from SP, even elite ones?
My sincere hope is that the starters across the league adjust. It’s no fun biting your nails hoping that Scherzer can finish the sixth inning after he dominated the first five or breathing a sigh of relief that Buck Showalter took out David Peterson after five frames. May what we’re seeing now not become the new normal. It’s absolutely wonderful to see a return of crisp games. Last night’s game checked in at 2:09, a pace that would have been remarkable just a year ago. But are crisp games worth it if every team is pulling their starter by the end of the fifth inning?
Longtime readers will know that my preference is to have multiple relievers capable of going longer than three outs in an appearance. That may be a necessity if starters are going to give even fewer innings than a season ago. It was very nice to see Tommy Hunter go two innings on Friday. Who else currently in the pen will be able to fill that role? My guess is Stephen Nogosek will be a multi-inning reliever, too. Will Showalter use Drew Smith for six outs?
Before you say Dennis Santana, know that in his career, Santana has appeared in 134 games and has 139 IP. That’s not to say that Santana can’t do that. Rather, it means that it’s not a given that he can. Recent Mets teams have hardly embraced the role of multi-inning reliever. Sure, there have been guys to do just that. Yet it’s hard not to notice that two recent examples – Seth Lugo and Trevor Williams – were allowed to leave as free agents. Also, those two will be used as starters this year by their new teams.
Gary Cohen called Williams the team’s Swiss army knife. Who replaces him in the pen, the guy who can throw three or more innings whenever you need it? My opinion is that the Mets need to have that thought in the front of their mind whenever they make a bullpen move.
If one of the current relievers have to go on the IL, my hope is that the Mets choose the replacement who can give multiple innings, whether that’s Jeff Brigham or Joey Lucchesi or someone else of that ilk. The good news is that the Mets have those guys available. Now it’s a matter of prioritizing them.
Winning teams generally have good bullpens. Last year’s 101-win Mets finished top 10 in bullpen ERA and WHIP and just three points of OPS allowed from finishing in ninth place in that category, too. They received excellent production from the top of their pen and less so from the bottom. That back end of the pen will become even more important if SP can’t match last year’s inning totals.